Charts on the Fridge

Wednesdays are “Little Boy Night”; the students are all male, though  the little is sometimes figurative.  I have a couple on other nights, too, but they’re mitigated by students who aren’t quite so demanding.  Wednesdays frequently require a lot of chocolate before they’re willing to end.

I have to confess that I wasn’t at my best for a couple of months–you know those periods when you just can’t get it together?–and had been letting two students slide a bit.  In my job, you can’t let anything slide at all.  Ever.  Not even one millimetre.  And I know this, but sometimes it seems less important than whatever is dominating my life at that moment.

Now, I get to compensate for allowing the students to put in barely-acceptable effort.

I turned to my regular stash of teaching books and websites, looking for ways to inspire these little buggers, starting, of course, with Albert Cullum, who usually sets me on the right track.  I reviewed Taylor Mali, but he’s not enough for kids who despise poetry.  Grace Llewellyn, Dan Greenberg, David Berger: all good, but they weren’t giving me what the Little Boys needed.

I retired to bed with a novel; when in doubt, hide out in fiction.

It finally hit me.  I do not need teachers here because we’re in a situation where teaching is not the issue: the student’s behaviour is.  What’s required is Psychology.  (Yes, the capital is deliberate.  I’m surprised that no one has painted a picture of it or carved it out of marble.)

I know all about Psychology.  I was freakin’ raised by it.

Psych on the Brain

Charts.  We needed charts.  The sort of thing that was stuck on the fridge pretty much at all times during my childhood (and my children’s).  Cheap paper with lines drawn in ballpoint ink, with check marks and Xs, or colour-coding stickers.  Add up all the positives and they get… now, this is where I get a little stuck. Tutors can’t allow extra screen time or dessert.  But Chapters is a nice compromise, where the gift certificates can be used for novelty pencils as well as books.  Both these students like books, and pencils, and all the other crappy little things Chapters now sells.  I can also find good-condition second-hand books.  And stickers.  There’s something about stickers.

I started the charts.  Both Little Boys got big grins on their faces, and I had the easiest sessions we’ve had in three months.  Get this: I enjoyed Little Boys Night.

The parents, of course, are another matter–actually, just one of the parents.  The one with what I consider a reasonable approach to parenting shrugged and said, “Whatever works.  Let me know how I can help.”  The other parent believes that good grades and a sense of accomplishment should be sufficient reward for the effort.

Yes.  Of course.  So you’ll be telling your boss there’s no need to pay you for the work you do?  You don’t need that “Employee of the Year” award?  No need for a Christmas bonus?  There’s a point where one must just ignore the parents.

What gets me is that the charts always work, and they work so well.  After six weeks of charts, the behaviour is always changed, and the relationships are easy.  I’m not sure how people in developing countries, where pen and paper and fridge are not always readily available, manage to parent–or teach.

I can see how it’s easy for teachers to slip into “this is the only way to do it” mode, once you find something that works.  There will come a time, I’m sure, when the chart backfires and I’m left scrambling.  (I suspect that day might involve Fenrir and the sun, though.)  Until then, I send up prayers of thanks to the inventor of dollar stores.





6 responses to “Charts on the Fridge

  1. I hide in fiction all the time. It seems to be a better place lately than the real world.


  2. I’m not sure where a “sense of accomplishment” fits in with the “reality of accomplishment” if there’s no tangible reward. If I have some left-over stones and I build a bridge by myself, I suppose I could have a “sense of accomplishment”, but if no one notices my bridge to nowhere, I just might knock it down. Delayed gratification might be OK if you’ve had enough past gratification and therefore have the confidence to persevere until the future goal is met, then perhaps no reward along the way is needed. But it takes a lot of dreaming, and most dreams fail don’t they. If the praiseworthy sub-goals are rewarded then maybe a modified ultimate dream object will succeed.


  3. Chocolate and hiding in fiction–yes! Oh, charts, too. 🙂 Good luck!


  4. PS. I forgot to mention elephant stamps. They were a big deal when I was five. A little encouragement or bribe goes a long way.


  5. I’ve just gone with books: the “highly educational” type of book that parents despise, like Ripley’s Weirdest Facts. My latest finds have holographic covers. One of the kids gasped when he saw it.


  6. In one of my ADD Coaching classes years ago, I was discussing how to work around a type of Executive Functioning Disorder erroneously referred to as “motivation deficit.” One of my [non-ADD] students made a similar comment to one above, asking, “But isn’t the satisfaction of a job well-done reward enough?” [followed by raucous laughter from the ADD-students].

    LOVE your response re: paychecks and bonuses. Ah, the entitled naivety of those who are blessed with brains that don’t struggle to learn!
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”


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